I doubt anyone in the US is happy with our current funding system for the arts. Artists don’t get paid. Museums rely on increasingly scant funds from the government and shrinking donations from wealthy benefactors and corporations to run their programs. We feel impoverished in a time where there are more people producing great work than ever before. That’s not right.
A plausible solution to at least some of these problems broke this week when e-flux announced its bid for the domain suffix .art. Word came on the heels of news that The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has decided to open up a full list of new domain endings. Should e-flux win this Top Level Domain bid, they not only promise a company that will be run under the supervision of a committee of experts comprising of art historians, artists and curators, but pledge to return 10% of revenues generated by the service in the form of grants and funding for underfunded art institutions, organizations, and projects.
That’s a big deal. e-flux is asking that we all show our support by leaving a recommendation on ICANN’s site, and I recommend readers do this. As a community, I believe it’s in our best interest to pursue all avenues that could provide significant funding to the arts in the future. Many others seem to think the same; the comments seem mostly split between support e-flux’s application for .art and Life Covenant Church’s application for .church.
That’s a good sign, because some of .art applicants make me very nervous. From a list of 10 applicants, Aremi Group S.A., a company located in Luxembourg, has already applied for .ART and DOT ART trademarks within the European Union. They have also set up a website that gives the impression they already manage the domain. .Art Registry, Inc., another contender, is an anonymous company registered in the Cayman Islands. Merchant Law Group LLP is a law firm that says it’s “able to respond to the needs of individuals and large corporations alike by focusing creativity, lateral thinking, and finding solutions.” It’s unclear what their experience in art or managing domains is, beyond having the $185,000 application fee.
e-flux’s strongest competition will come from competitors who can demonstrate the ability to sell the domain. Dadotart Inc, the LLC of deviantART, tops this list; the website currently hosts 19 million users. Top Level Design LLC, a venture created by the founders of AboutUS, SnapNames and ICANNWiki, may also prove steep competition due to their experience handling domain names: the firm has already applied for nine more top-level domains, and ICANNWiki is sponsored by ICANN, Eustar (the operators of .biz and .us), and Verisign (the operators of .com, .net, and .gov), among others. e-flux’s esteem within the art world may not carry over so well in this context, though they’ve brought on veteran registry operators OpenRegistry, responsible for .be and .eu, to manage the technical aspects.
All this said, it’s hard to know whether the domain suffix will ultimately hold any influence. Many of us thought .biz was going to transform the URL business, and we all know how well that went. As of 2011, there are 2.1 million .biz domains, a tiny fraction of the 95.5 million .com domains or even 9.3 million .org domains. .Art might be a different story. This time around ICANN will introduce 500 new domains, increasing the number of gTLDs from 324 to 824, so it seems likely that the way we think of url suffixes will have to change.
Whoever it goes to, a .Art top-level domain will be a license to print money. Of the contenders, only e-flux are proposing to spend any of that money on supporting art. If you’d rather send your money to e-flux than the Cayman Islands, you should leave a comment on the ICANN website letting them know how you feel.